A deal has finally been reached on the long-awaited Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill Thursday afternoon. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R., Utah, ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., introduced the bipartisan, bicameral bill which sets the framework desired by Congress in how the administration negotiates free trade agreements.
The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015) outlines 21st century congressional negotiating objectives that any administration – Republican or Democratic – must follow when entering into and conducting trade talks with foreign countries while also increasing transparency by requiring that Congress have access to important information surrounding pending trade deals and that the public receive detailed updates and see the full details of trade agreements well before they are signed.
When the trade agreement meets the United States’ objectives and Congress is sufficiently consulted, the legislation allows for trade deals to be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote, an incentive for negotiating nations to put their best offer forward for any deal.
At the same time, the bill creates a new mechanism to withdraw TPA procedures and hold the administration accountable should it fail to meet the requirements of TPA.
Earlier in the day Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on trade policy and indicated a deal on the final legislation was imminent. The committee recessed and then said once agreement was reached, members could consider the agreement in further detail.
During his opening remarks, Hatch explained, “TPA is the most powerful tool in Congress’s trade arsenal,” adding that for decades robust TPA laws have ensured that Congress plays a leading role in setting our country’s trade agenda and providing our trade negotiators with the necessary tools to reach the best deals possible.
The proposed bill includes a laundry list of stipulations to be followed during the negotiating process including directing the Administration to pursue Congressional prerogatives through Congressionally-mandated negotiating objectives; increases consultations with Congress and the public through ensuring access to negotiated text and allowing members to participate in the negotiating process; and addresses the impact of state-owned enterprises.
For agriculture, it also strengthens the rules by updating provisions for robust and enforceable rules on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and address improper use of geographical indications.
Last year over 60 members of the Senate wrote the President in support of addressing currency manipulation. The TPA-2015 bill sets new negotiating objectives on currency manipulation for the first time which directs that trade partners avoid manipulating exchange rates.
During the hearing, treasury secretary Jacob Lew said a proposal to apply countervailing duties based on currency manipulation concerns could be “problematic” and may not be compliant under World Trade Organization trade rules. He added it will be important that any language in TPA that addresses currency manipulation be one that provides flexibility.
National Pork Producers Council president Dr. Ron Prestage, a veterinarian and pork producer from Camden, S.C. , welcomed the introduction. “TPA is imperative for getting U.S. trading partners to come to the negotiating table with their best and final offers,” which is needed now to aid in concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations among the United States and 11 Pacific Rim countries.
“U.S. trade negotiators will have the leverage they need to close the TPP negotiations when Congress passes TPA,” Prestage said.
Democrats criticized the short period of time allowed for debate on the bill. Hatch said he intends to hold a mark-up of the bill next Thursday (April 23) and before the end of the month have it debated on the floor. Wyden encouraged his fellow democrats that he looks forward to talking more about the bill more extensively over the next week and he felt it was clear there will be more talk about it for “weeks after that.”
Wyden also supports having Trade Adjustment Assistance move forward, and although it may not be included within the TPA bill, it will go on “parallel tracks.” He said, “TPA and TAA must make it to the President’s desk for a signature so one can’t be enacted without the other.”